One of the most important aspects to losing weight is keeping track of your progress. If you can’t tell if you’re losing weight, how are you going to know if your current calorie intake is too much or not enough.
How To Check Your Body Mass Index
The easiest way to track progress is by monitoring your BMI – or Body Mass Index. This tells you how much of your total body weight is actually fat. We need to track this because if you’re burning off fat but gaining some muscle mass as well (from your workouts), your body weight could remain the same, but your level of body fat could be reducing. So weighing scales are not the best way to monitor your progress.
Here are some of the different ways you can check and monitor your BMI:
Body fat tends to distribute differently in men and women. In men, fat tends to accumulate around the inner organs of the abdomen, such as the intestines, kidneys and liver (android fat distribution), giving the body an apple-shaped appearance. This pattern of fat distribution is described as abdominal, truncal or central obesity.
In women, on the other hand, fat tends to accumulate around the hips and thighs (gynaecoid fat distribution), giving the body a pear-shaped appearance.
While we all have some subcutaneous fat (under the skin), this type of fat is not as harmful as infra-abdominal, or visceral, fat. In sumo wrestlers, for example, the fat is mostly subcutaneous, which means a low risk of heart disease. The heavy physical training that their sport demands minimizes intra-abdominal fat.
Doctors have noted that certain conditions, such as abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated blood glucose levels (diabetes), tend to cluster in people.
The underlying cause of this cluster of conditions (called metabolic syndrome) is thought to be abdominal obesity and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where the body does not respond fully to insulin circulating in the body. This results in high blood sugar levels. (Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces to lower blood sugar levels.)People with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and other conditions that result from a build-up of plaque in the arteries. Blockages in the arteries can stop the flow of blood to the heart and the brain. A gauge of the amount of intra-abdominal fat can predict if a person has metabolic syndrome.
One way of estimating this is to measure your waist circumference. If you reduce your waistline, even if your weight stays the same, your risk of cardiovascular disease will fall. To get reliable measurements, it is important to standardize the way you measure your waist circumference.
What is the ideal waist circumference? Like the BMI, body proportions differ in different populations, so each has its own set of cut-off points:
Waist circumference and BMI together serve as convenient and fairly accurate measures of body fat. If the BMI is high but the waist circumference is normal, as with bodybuilders, there is no worry of excessive body fat. If the BMI is normal but the waist circumference is large, as with elderly men who have little fat around the face and arms but carry around a pot belly, there is a worry of excessive high-risk intra-abdominal fat.
This method requires the hip circumference measurement in addition to the waist circumference measurement. In spite of this extra step, there is no added benefit compared to measuring the waist circumference alone.
This technique involves pinching the skin and subcutaneous tissue in three to seven places on the body and using handheld calipers to measure the skinfold thickness while exerting constant pressure. The measurements are entered into a regression equation to estimate the body fat percentage, which should ideally be less than 25% for men and less than 30% for women.
There are a few drawbacks. First, regression equations commonly used are derived from studies using Caucasian cadavers, but we know that body composition differs between ethnic groups (and between the living and the dead). The equation also assumes that subcutaneous fat makes up a constant proportion of total body fat, but we know that the distribution between subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat is variable. Second, unless the person performing the skinfold measurement is well-trained and experienced, the results will not be very reproducible. Third, the greater the degree of obesity, the harder it is to pinch a fold of skin to apply the calipers.